The Great Non-Blizzard of 2017 in Photos

On Wednesday, various weather predictions for Friday ranged from 9 to 24 inches of snow — plus high winds. Not only did we get zero snow on Friday, but at about 3:30, the sun peeked out for a couple of minutes. I’m tempted to say that the snow was knee-deep and post photos of buried cars. But I think I’ll go the other route and declare that the local weather forecast is fake news.

In other big news from last week, the President of the United States said some things that weren’t true.

That’s America these days — global warming and a (literally) unbelievable President.

Here’s a photo from each day last week — Week #8 of 2017.


(2/19/17)  Ice fishing in shorts appears to be part of the new world order.  But I’ll take this over going swimming in a big parka any day.

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(2/20/17)  It was a rainy, yucky day.  It was starting to get dark and I didn’t have a photo yet,  so I decided to hop in the car and see what I could find. A block and a half from my house I realized that what I really needed to do was hop out and go for a walk — maybe splash in a few puddles with my mom.  It made a yucky day feel kind of happy.

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(2/21/17)  Here’s the highlight of my week (and the reason has nothing to do with the impossibility of hitting golf balls on a driving range in Minnesota in February).  Roger Buoen was out swinging his brand new irons 3 weeks after his final chemotherapy treatment. He’s been my life coach for a few years now (a volunteer position), but he’s taken it to a whole new level with this role-model, teach-by-example thing he’s doing now.  (Note: Please don’t show this photo to any law enforcement officers, however.  You’ll notice he’s hitting off the ground ahead of the mats, in blatant violation of the posted warnings.  But he just had to see how that new 8-iron felt off the turf.)

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(2/22/17) I just love this little old bridge over the creek near my house. (12th Avenue South)


(2/23/17)  Surprise!!! Karen’s sister LeeAnn, and husband Tony, called us from Pepito’s Restaurant a couple of blocks away and invited us to lunch.  We had no idea they were here from their new home in Florida, but what a nice surprise.  They came back for nephew Chad McNiesh’s military service retirement party.


(2/24/17)  Minnesota IFP DocuClub founder Melody Gilbert (standing, right) is back after living in Bulgaria for several years, and we’re all thrilled about it.  She’s an accomplished documentary filmmaker who takes the time to help those of us who are learning.  This group has come a long way since I started attending almost 11 years ago.  There are some top-notch filmmakers in the group now, including Jeremy Wilker (standing, left) who is shown doing a camera demonstration.  I’ve been an infrequent attendee of DocuClub over the past few years, but this meeting was great for me — I got some honest and helpful feedback on my project, saw wonderful works-in-progress by fellow video-makers, reconnected with some old friends, and remembered why I used to like coming so much. I’m already looking forward to next month’s meeting.


(2/25/17)  If Roger’s return to the golf course on Tuesday wasn’t enough to be grateful for, Cindy’s invitation to dinner on Saturday was the icing on that cake.  It’s been a miserable winter for Roger and a very tough one for Cindy. It was great to see them laughing, and so nice of Cindy to cook a wonderful meal for us.





My first Photo-A-Day blunder of the year

Week 7 of 2017 was a great week to be outdoors in Minnesota. The weather was crazy-warm for this time of year, and I did get out and shoot photos every day (honest!). But when I went through my week of photos this weekend, my shots from Wednesday were missing!  I mistakenly erased a memory card before uploading all the pictures.  I kicked myself for a couple of minutes and then decided to get on with my life.

However, I am still going to post 7 photos – two of them from Thursday’s visit from the grandkids. So, everything is fine, and any illusions of perfection in my posting a shot from each day have been dropped.

(I really did shoot some photos on Wednesday, though — I swear.)

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(2/12/17)  Neva scores!!! We went to see good friend Neva Kueffer (celebrating with her stick in the air) play a game in her women’s league at the Augsburg College arena. She decided to give us a thrill by flipping one past a very tough goalkeeper. Female hockey has become a big thing in this part of the country, and these women are really good.


(2/13/17) One of our neighbors a couple of blocks away has created a whimsical contraption in their front yard.  Covered by a cute canopy and surrounded by a colorful fence, this assemblage of little houses  has doors and windows that open and close, and lights that shine — all courtesy of solar panels (and some wind assistance).  It’s an amazing, beautiful little piece of yard art, carefully designed and constructed.  I’m mesmerized every time I walk by it.  One day I’ll knock on the door and ask to meet the person who dreamed this up.


(2/14/17) Now this is what a principal’s office should look like — no intimidating big desk, just a little round table in the center and about six comfortable chairs arranged in a circle.  That set up tells a lot about my old friend Hernan Moncada’s management style. We taught together at Windom School in Minneapolis about 10 years ago (when he was just a kid).  Señor Moncada texted recently and invited me to stop in and have coffee at his school — Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion Elementary in Eden Prairie, MN. This smart, funny, energetic, young man runs a school with a population of 800 students! I’m proud to call him my friend. I hope the staff and families know how lucky they are.


(2/16/17) We have a recurring role-playing game at our house that was started by Otto’s sister.  It’s called “Missed our flight and have to sleep at the airport”.   I kid you not.  I don’t think she’s ever had to do that in her 4.7 years of air travel, but Otto also loves to play it  — even when his sister is not around to make the public address announcements.


(2/16/17)  She’s got style.  Miss Svea arrived wearing an elegant black dress (open in the back), grabbed the earmuffs from the wall hook, and made a bee-line to the front hall closet to find someone’s gloves. Earrings and pearls next time?


(2/17/17) If you don’t understand the craziness of this picture, you’ve never spent a winter in Minnesota. Today’s high temp was 63, shattering the previous record of 55.  The average high for today is 29 degrees. We have virtually no snow on the ground . . . we’re biking . . . in shorts . . . in Minneapolis . . . on February 17.  


(2/18/17)  One of the Twin Cities’ best kept secrets is the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, just east of the behemoth shopping center modestly named “The Mall of America” and just below the bluffs from a bunch of office buildings and a Hilton Hotel.  This refuge is part of a 70-mile stretch of land and river that is under the protection of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. You can leave the Big Mall or the MSP International Airport and in 5 minutes be walking in a huge, protected natural setting.  They have a great visitors center and hiking trails down to the water level. I’ve been here several times before with students, but a lot of Twin Cities residents aren’t even aware that it’s here and worth exploring.




All about Aaron

I’m in the middle of making a documentary film about Aaron Westendorp. I’m saying that up front, because I’m sure that Aaron is starting to doubt that I’ll ever finish it. (Watch a 4-minute clip at the bottom of this page.)

I met Aaron about two years ago.  Aaron’s parents, Krista and Doug, are part of a loosely organized weekly Happy Hour group that Karen and I hang out with. They’d told me a bit about their (now) 31 year old son — how he was quite a character, and how he had overcome a lot of stuff in his childhood — specifically some physical ailments and disabilities.


KFAI News Director Dale Connelly giving Aaron a little help with his newsbreak. Aaron reads the news on-air with a text-to-voice program.

I was especially intrigued by the “quite a character” part. They told me he did some announcing and interviewing at a radio station (even though he doesn’t speak vocally), how he was smart, funny, sarcastic, fiercely independent, how he had a penchant for connecting with certain types of people, such as celebrities he admired, and political movers and shakers. They also told me he was very social justice-minded and identified with people who found themselves on the fringes of society for whatever reason.  To top it off, he was a music freak — especially older and offbeat stuff — AND a percussionist himself.  I decided I wanted to meet this guy and I asked them if they thought he might be interested in letting me make a documentary film about him.  Krista advised me to give it a shot, and gave me his email address.


Here’s Aaron, characteristically in the front of the pack at a Black Lives Matter march in the Twin Cities.

In my first email to Aaron, I was a little unsure how to describe why I wanted to make a film about him (without having met him) without it sounding like the only reason I was interested was because he has some disabilities. Then I realized that if I was honest with myself, that the disability angle WAS, in fact, a big part of why I was initially interested.  This kid wasn’t just any funny, intelligent, thoughtful, caring, assertive, musical, smartass radio announcer —  but he was all that without the ability to talk, most of the time using a wheelchair, and with limitations in the use of his hands and arms.  But when you meet Aaron, you quickly realize that the physical limitations are noticeable at first, but they are far from the most important things about him.

Here’s Aaron’s response to my first note to him asking if he’d like to meet me and let me make a film about him, “I trust my mom has good judgement about these things, so as long as you don’t ask me to take off my clothes, we’re good.”

I literally LOL-ed, and knew immediately that we were going to get along.


Aaron and bandleader Johnny Holm having a great time making music together at Neison’s Bar in Savage, Minnesota.

I’ve recorded quite a bit of video with Aaron.  He usually sets up the shoot — at an event or place that is important to him. He’s invited me to his apartment to meet his nurse, to several gigs when he’s played with the Johnny Holm Band, to the Minneapolis May Day parade that he’s in every year, to a St. Paul Saints baseball game, to his birthday party at his sisters’ house. One day he texted to invite me to stop in at a brew pub where he was DJ-ing. For me, the most fun one he set up was getting me backstage after a Prairie Home Companion show and interviewing his long-time friend Garrison Keillor and several of the people in the show.


Aaron and good friend Garrison Keillor trade sarcastic barbs backstage at Macalester College in St. Paul following the 4th of July Prairie Home Companion Show last year.

I’ve also visited Aaron when he was hospitalized for some potentially serious stuff.  He monitors his own health and lets people know when he’s having problems.  His parents raised him to be independent and advocate for himself.  He makes it clear to his Personal Care Assistants (PCAs) that they work for him — he calls the shots, and they are there to help with the relatively few things he’s not physically able to completely do by himself.


Doug, Krista and sister Jill join Aaron a St. Paul Saints baseball game.

I’ll be finishing a rough cut of his film soon and hope to have the whole thing done later this spring. Aaron and I have had an agreement from the beginning that it will be a film that he can feel good about. He’s made it clear that he doesn’t want it to be a “feel sorry for the cripple” kind of thing.  Nor does he want a moist-eyed “inspirational” piece.  At first it seemed like a tricky line to walk, but the more I got to know him, the more I realized that Aaron just being Aaron is going to be story enough. But if if there’s not at least a little inspiration and maybe a tear or two in the story of Aaron and his family, it will be my fault as a filmmaker, because everyone who knows Aaron is both inspired and full of admiration for this wacky guy.

Yes, Aaron . . . there will be a film.  And no, I won’t ask you to take your clothes off.

Here’s a 4:26 clip of Aaron and some of his friends and family that will give you a little idea of who he is. (This is an expanded and re-edited version of the video clip in the original posting.)



Photo a Day for Week #6 (no politics this week!)

Here are my 7 photos from last week, week #6 of 2017.  I’ve decided to take a short break from complaining about President —–.

You’re welcome.


(2/5/17) A successful day of Valentine making.  (They each did one for the other parent, too — no favoritism here.)


(2/6/17) I drove through my old neighborhood and thought about how damn lucky some kids are compared to others.  Pretty cool to have this in your yard, huh?

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(2/7/17)  There used to be dozens of movie theaters in St. Paul.  Now there are exactly TWO, and this is one of them. The Grandview Theater and the Highland Theater are both owned by the Mann Theatre Company.  The Grandview opened in 1933.  The interior has retained much of its original charm, however the balcony was walled off and turned into a smaller second floor theater.  It’s still a great old place though, and one of an endangered species of  older neighborhood movie houses. I hope these two remaining St. Paul gems can hang on.


(2/8/17)  Lake Calhoun feeds into Lake Harriet through this half-mile channel.  It’s been so warm lately that most of the ice is gone.


(2/9/17) This bridge over on I-94 in downtown Minneapolis was designed (sort of) by Frank Lloyd Wright.  I qualify that because it was built from some of his drawings from 1937 and adapted to fit this curving bridge.  I think a lot of people don’t even realize that it’s a Wright design. (This is not a great photo, but then again, not all that bad considering I shot it out the car window on my phone while driving down the freeway.)


(2/10/17)  Centennial Lakes park is one of those places you drive past all the time without really taking the time to explore.  When we finally did stop for an hour today and walk around, we realized that it’s really nice — especially considering its location in the middle of a suburban office park and very near Southdale, a big and busy shopping mall.  A string of ponds provides good skating (skate rental available).  Those strips of grass in the foreground are part of a funky natural grass putting course that skirts the water.  It’s kind of like mini-golf, except this course requires actual golf skills.


(2/11/17)  Near St. Anthony Main, across the river from downtown Minneapolis.  They can’t be called Christmas lights in February, but I think I like them even more at this time of year.



Trying to catch up

I’m getting a little behind in keeping my New Year’s promise to myself to shoot and post a photo each day. (Shooting – yes.  Posting – late)  I’m going to blame the new President of the United States for this, because he and his yes-people have been sucking a lot of my mental energy over the past few days. I’m going to have to figure out a way to get my retirement work done with the current regime in power.  Right now, it’s tough. Before too long, it will be golf season.  I hope that by then I can concentrate enough to get myself to the course and play.

Here is a photo from each day last week (Week 5).


(1/29/17)  Quiet! — Artists at work.


(1/30/17) It was 7:30 PM, and I hadn’t gotten around to taking a photo for the day yet.  I took off out into the darkness, and luckily, there was a hockey game at the neighborhood park. Three things I noticed: 1. These kids are good skaters, 2. There were at least as many adults watching as there were kids playing, and 3. Quite a few of these guys are girls.  It was very fun to watch. (And yes, she scored!)



(1/31/17) Minneapolis is know as the “Mill City”, but several other communities could also claim that title. Minnehaha Creek starts at Lake Minnentonka and meanders for 22 miles before it floes over its famous waterfall and then into the Mississippi River.  In the 1800s, there were several milling operations on the creek.  Just before the creek enters the city of Minneapolis, the Edina Mill Dam still slows down the water and widens the stream to a small lake.  Edina’s picturesque Browndale neighborhood is named for the prominent Brown family’s farm.  According to a sign in the little park where I shot this picture, “In the late 1800s, the Browndale Farm was a vast campus of buildings and a significant employer in the area.  Its cattle and progressive farming methods made it famous.  Visitors and dignitaries from around the region and overseas came to admire its operations. Central to the farm’s success was the neighboring Edina Mill, which gave access to high-quality grains.”


(2/1/17)  Summit Avenue runs westward from the Cathedral near downtown St. Paul all the way to the Mississippi River.  This section of the river is considered the only “gorge” on the enter river.  High bluffs on each side provide stunning views.  This park at the end of Summit Ave. on East River Road offers some great walking trails.  When I took a geology class field trip here as a teacher about 20 years ago,  I also learned that the sides of these cliffs are great places to find fossils.


(2/2/17)  Dan Berg invited me to breakfast at Curran’s, a pillar of the Kingfield neighborhood. Our paths have crossed occasionally in recent years, but we haven’t sat down and talked in a long time. I first met Dan and his wife, Welcome Jerde back in the ’90s, as very active parents in Windom Open School community, where I was teaching.  Their daughter Hannah has now graduated from college and is pursuing a career as a filmmaker.  Their other wonderful daughter, Julia, was in my class.  She passed away tragically in 2005 at age 15 — in what turned out to be the result of mis-diagnosis by the medical professionals who were treating her. Dan, Welcome, and Hannah have been able to recover as well as any family possibly could from such a loss. There are many reasons for why they are so strong today, but Dan attributes a lot of it to their decision to embark on a mission to educate doctors about this issue, and through their University of Minnesota Lectures, actually change some practices and procedures in the medical community.  It was great to see Dan again, have some laughs, catch up on news, and remember Julia. 

For more about Julia’s story and Dan and Welcome’s journey, go to their website here



(2/2/17) Just before sundown on the south shore of Lake Calhoun (“Bde Maka Ska” in the Dakota language). The downtown Minneapolis skyline is in the background.


(2/3/17)  Apparently ice kiting is a thing now.  These people were having a good time on Lake Nokomis.  Maybe I’ll give it a try — as soon as I get some skates and a kite.

Is Topsy-Turvy Town the New Normal?

I’ve had an annoying little song playing over and over in my head for a few days. When I was a little kid back in the ’50s, we had a 45rpm record called “Topsy-Turvy Town”. It was one of those silly kids’ songs about a place where everything was the opposite of the way things really are.  Of course the reason it’s popped back into my consciousness is because it feels like Topsy-Turvy America right now. The new administration wants us to believe them when they tell us that “When you look to the front, you see to the rear”, or “When you open your eyes, that’s when you can hear”.  Have a listen to to “Topsy-Turvy Town by clicking here.  (Warning: Don’t listen to it more than once or you’ll still have it in your head 60 years from now, like I do.)screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-1-29-04-pm

Little kids laugh at the ridiculous. They find a backwards, upside down, world funny, precisely because they know what the truth is. Even a 4-year old understands this kind of humor. Of course the trees are not blue and the river brown, as the song tells us. Now as adults, we laugh at the Donald, KellyAnne and Sean characters on Saturday Night Live. But then frustration, even anger, take over, because the SNL version of Topsy-Turvy Town is not fictional — it’s really happening. So after a good laugh, we get serious and try to figure out what we can do about the mess we’re in.

TrumpTweets are now part of each days news.  Because his opinions are not often based on facts, the tweets range from laughable, to self-aggrandizing, to mean-spirited, to jingoistic, to offensive, all the way to downright dangerous.  This President’s use of Twitter is perhaps the most noticeable way the he is different than his predecessors, because he’s the first POTUS to expose his impetuous and narcissistic nature so immediately, publicly, and vociferously. He has no filters and he sees no value in getting any.

His other forms of communication are no less troubling, however.  We’ve all seen plenty of wince-worthy (if not scream at the TV-worthy) moments already.  Even many of his supporters hoped that President Trump would act a little more “normal” or “presidential” after he was elected.  It hasn’t happened.  His staunch supporters say that an unpredictable rogue is what they wanted, his lukewarm, but-he’s-better-than-Hillary voters are getting increasingly uncomfortable, and the rest of us are horrified.

Because he (and his hench-people) are SO outrageous, and so consistent in their level of outlandishness, I’m worried that there’s a danger that some of us will become accustomed to this noise, this distractive clutter, this barrage of blunders, and the lack of connection to facts.  I fear that some in the Republican Party have already adjusted their level of acceptable lies and pernicious attacks from their President.  Too many seem to have found a place in their minds where this President’s tenuous relationship with the truth is somehow manageable to them.  David Brooks wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times last week calling out the “Republican Fausts” who have made a deal with him to get what they want.  To quote Mr. Brooks,  “The Republican Fausts are in an untenable position. The deal they’ve struck with the devil comes at too high a price. It really will cost them their soul.”

I hope we don’t lose our soul as a nation.  I hope we don’t adjust our standards of decency, fairness, human dignity, and pursuit of the truth. I hope we don’t get warn down — not the slightest bit — by the daily bucket of bullshit being dumped on us by this administration and change out standards for how big of a bucket is acceptable.

When I restarted this blog on the first day of this year, I hadn’t intended it to be a political diatribe. But, since January 20, we’ve begun to see how serious our situation is. If I really am committed to “pay attention”, then that YUGE elephant in every room in America has to be paid attention to. He really is as bad as we thought he’d be. “Give him a chance” is not an option now, if it every was. Every day’s news makes it more difficult to see our way out of this. But we can’t stop looking for a way forward, can’t stop speaking up, can’t stop calling nonsense by its true name.

Oh, and one more line from the song:

“They call it a crowd when there’s no one at all, in Topsy-Turvy Town.”

How did they know about that 64 years ago?


With today’s confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, it won’t be long until your kids will travel to school in style in a cool new Topsy-Turvy bus!